The Story of the Ka Mate Haka.

The rugby world cup is upon us and as it’s taking place in New Zealand we thought the time was ripe to broach a subject close to our hearts; haka!

New Zealand‘s war dance, the Ka Mate haka, was composed by the Maori Chief, Te Rauparaha. It was written in the early 19th century to celebrate the fiery warrior’s escape from death.

It was New Zealand’s All Blacks rugby team who first made it world famous, performing the traditional dance spectacle before matches.

Some view the eyeballing routine as an unsporting attempt to intimidate the opposition before the match begins but the Henry Brothers have embraced the tradition and even perform their own haka during seminars and elt conferences.

The Story.

Te Rauparaha was the chief of the Ngati Toarangatira or Ngati-Toa. As long as anyone could remember there had always been vicious feuds and fighting between the Ngati-Toa and the neighbouring Waikato tribe.

Te Rauparaha’s father had been captured and killed while he was still a young boy, so it was unsurprising that Te Rauparaha became a most feared and respected warrior chief.

The story goes that following a heated battle, Te Rauparah was forced to flee for his
life. He came to the village of Te Wharerangi, a chief known for his extremely hairy appearance, and he asked him for his protection. Te Wharerangi reluctantly agreed to hide Te Rauparaha in a kumara cooking pit and he had his wife sit over the entrance. No warrior or man of consequence would dream of putting himself in a more lowly position than a woman but Te Rauparaha was prepared to endure this humiliation in order to escape his pursuers.

When Te Rauparaha heard his enemies approaching he said to himself, “Ka mate! Ka mate!” (I die! I die!), but when he heard Te Wharerangi tell them that the man they wanted had continued to the next village he murmured, “Ka ora! Ka ora!” (I live! I live!).

At first, Te Rauparaha’s enemies refused to believe that this was the case and in the cooking pit the great warrior whispered the words, “Ka mate! Ka mate!”.

Once again, Te Wharerangi tried to convince the men that their enemy had fled and
this time they were finally persuaded.Te Rauparaha heard the warriors leave and with relief he exclaimed,

 “Ka ora, ka ora! Tenei te tangata puhuruhuru nana nei i tiki mai whakawhiti te ra!”

This translates as,

 ‘I live! I live! For this is the hairy man who has fetched the sun and caused it to shine again!’

Te Rauparaha emerged from the cooking pit and by way of thanks performed the haka that he had composed for Te Wharerangi and the assembled villagers.

This is the Ka Mate haka as performed by the mighty All Blacks before their international matches.

Ka Mate! Ka Mate!
Ka Mate! Ka Mate! Ka Ora! Ka Ora!
Ka Mate! Ka Mate! Ka Ora! Ka Ora!
Tenei te tangata puhuru huru
nana nei i tiki mai
whakawhiti te ra.
A upane! Ka upane!
A upane! Kaupane whiti te ra!

…and in English –
I die! I die! I live! I live!
I die! I die! I live! I live!
This is the hairy man
Who fetched the sun
and caused it to shine again.
One upward step! Another upward step!
An upward step… Another! The sun shines!

Enjoy this video of the fearsome All Blacks performing the Ka Mate haka.


About The Henry Brothers

We are English teachers involved in ELT publishing in Turkey, and also touring the country giving workshops and presentations to English teachers, mainly on the use of poetry, storytelling and other lively activities in the classroom. We can be contacted by e-mail to or
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